Building Engines, Building Skills

Youth at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility have the opportunity to build a drag racing engine for the Jefferson High School auto racing club.

(Above, teacher Butch Stetson (left) works on the drag racing engine with student Dillan E. The auto shop in the Moody Industrial Arts building at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility was tasked with building an engine for the Jefferson High School auto racing club.)

A program at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility is revving up excitement for some youth.

Youth at the Moody Industrial Arts building have been able to try their hands at building an engine for a high school drag racing team.

When Jefferson High School’s auto club decided to switch from a circle track circuit to drag racing, adviser Spencer Johnson knew who to call.

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Butch Stetson, who teaches in the Moody Industrial Arts auto shop at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, is helping youth build an engine for a drag racing team.

Butch Stetson, who runs Stetson Racing Engines when he’s not teaching at MacLaren’s Lord High School, has built national award-winning race engines. And he jumped at the chance to not only partner with the high school’s racing club by building an engine for them, but he also decided to share his knowledge with MacLaren youth.

“I know how to do (stuff) and I don’t want to die with it. I want to pass it on,” Stetson said.

The engine is worth roughly $8,000, Stetson said, but many parts were donated. The engine is made up of:

  • The crankshaft, donated by SCAT Enterprises;
  • Rods and a piston, donated from Stetson Racing Engines;
  • A four-bolt main block from a 1970s-era Chevy pickup that Stetson found in storage on the MacLaren grounds, left over from the days when the facility operated a farm; and
  • The camshaft, also known as “the personality of a motor.”
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Tyler S. works on the finishing touches of an engine built at the Moody Industrial Arts auto shop at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility for Jefferson High School’s auto racing club.

While Lord High School youth are getting an opportunity to see how the engine is put together, Stetson has focused on teaching youth who have graduated and are in the vocational program.

“It helps them get an understanding of engines in general,” he said. “I can’t take the guys to the racetrack but they can still be part of it.”

It’s difficult to bring cars into the facility, due to security reasons, so instead, youth are able to test the engine using a dynamometer. This device, which the program was able to purchase in the spring, simultaneously measures the torque and rotational speed of the engine to calculate the engine’s power.

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The finished engine for Jefferson High School’s auto racing club sits in the auto shop at MacLaren’s Moody Industrial Arts building. Youth at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility have had the chance to not only build a drag racing engine for a team (foreground), but also have been able to learn how to measure an engine’s power using a dynamometer, being used by Dillan E. in the background.

With its new engine, the Jefferson High School team will have years of racing ahead of them with little maintenance required, thanks to the nature of drag racing versus circle track racing. And through that time, they’ve promised to sport a MacLaren decal to honor those who’ve helped make it possible. The team also has said they will video the races so the MacLaren youth can watch their engine in action.

“One engine will do for Jefferson for a long time with quality parts,” Stetson said. “They just need to maintain it. It should last six to 10 years.”

He’s especially excited about providing these kinds of opportunities to MacLaren youth who have already graduated, especially those who seem to have a passion for the work.

“(Because they’re done with their basic education), why would these kids show up if they aren’t interested?” he said.

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Dillan E. and teacher Butch Stetson tighten cams on the drag racing engine they’re building at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility for an auto club team.

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